John Walker, head of Cold-War-era Soviet spy ring, dies in prison

John Anthony WalkerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A retired United States Navy sailor, who led one of the most prolific Soviet spy rings in America during the Cold War, and made over $2 million in the process, has died in prison, where he had been serving a life sentence. John Anthony Walker, Jr., retired from the US Navy in 1976 as a Warrant Officer, having previously served as a radio operator and technical communications expert. He held a top-secret clearance for most of his Navy career. In 1967, Walker had walked into the Soviet embassy in Washington, DC, and had given Soviet officials a few US military codes as samples. The exchange sparked a cooperation that lasted 17 years, as the Soviets initially placed Walker on a $1,000-a-week salary, promising to upgrade his income if he delivered more classified material. Eventually, Walker recruited his older brother, Arthur Walker, a US Navy lieutenant commander, who had left the Navy and was working for a US military contractor. He also recruited his oldest son, Michael, who was a US Navy seaman aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and was able to clandestinely photograph classified documents he found on the ship. Walker also recruited one of his best friends, Jerry Whitworth, whom he had befriended when Whitworth was a student. He convinced the impressionable young man to enlist in the US Navy for the purpose of providing the spy ring with classified information. Whitworth eventually became a chief radioman for the Navy. The spy ring Walker set up conducted espionage on an industrial scale, providing the USSR with classified information for nearly two decades. The stolen information, which included the daily code configurations for several encryption devices used by the US Navy, allowed Moscow to decode over a million US navy messages. The breach perpetrated by the Walker spy ring is considered among the largest in American military history. Vitaly Yurchenko, a high-ranking officer in the Soviet KGB, once described the Walker spy ring as “the greatest case in Soviet intelligence history”. But the ring was busted in May of 1985 following an extensive counterintelligence operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Walker, whose espionage for the Soviets had been primarily motivated by greed, pleaded guilty to selling classified information to the USSR. His cooperation with the US authorities allowed him to strike a deal for his son, Michael, who was the only member of the spy ring not to serve a life sentence. He was released in 2000, after serving 15 years in prison. Walker, who was 77, died at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina. The cause of his death has not been disclosed.

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